There have been critics led by Dr Johnson who have wished away the first act of the play Othello. What is the importance of the first act?

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Introduction

There have been critics led by Dr Johnson who have wished away the first act of the play Othello. What is the importance of the first act? As in the majority of plays, the opening act is once which sets the mood, atmosphere and general location for the rest of the play. Some might say it is the more important of acts as it is the deciding factor of whether the audience will be interested in watching the play or not. The opening scene to Othello starts off in the midst of an argument between Iago and Roderigo. As it is in the middle of the argument the audience is unsure of what they are arguing about, this intrigues us and makes us want to find out. This method of the audience not knowing what has happened before the pay has started is called exposition. The play starts during an argument, so the atmosphere would be heated and tense, therefore making the audience excited and keen to know more. In Elizabethan times it would have been popular for a play to start very dramatically as this would have been the only signal to tell the audience that it had begun, therefore catching their attention.

Middle

This all changes in scene two and I would say Othello is introduced as the 'good guy', the audience warms to him as he talks of his affections for Desdemona. Othello's power is shown in his words- 'Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them'-he stays calm and lets Brabantio have his say, indicating to the audience a bit about his character, that he holds power but is patient enough not to enforce his views upon Brabantio without letting him speak first. However, by the end of the play the audience see that Othello's character isn't really like this, as he isn't patient enough to let Desdemona have her say about her supposed infidelity, and it quick to jump to conclusions about her. Some critics would say this is because of his 'fatal flaw', jealousy. A.C.Bradley held the view that in all Shakespearian tragedy the main character would always uncover a fatal flaw which would be the reason for his downfall. ' Shakespeare has shown us that his hero is not as strong or as good a man as he thinks he is, that the hero's flaw is his refusal to face the reality of his own nature'-Leo Kirschenbaum 'The Modern Othello'1961.

Conclusion

I think Othello's story of how he courted Desdemona in Scene 3 is very important for the emotional development of the play, not so much the plot. Once the audience has heard his story, we can begin to understand his relationship with Desdemona more clearly. This is also the first time we are introduced to Desdemona, and she shows the usual characteristics of a woman in Elizabethan times, obeying the male figures, and typically, talks about how she must now obey Othello more than her father as he is her husband. The audience interpret her as playing a characteristic female role of that time, as she only speaks when she is asked to, and even then does not speak as much as the male characters. This signifies the attitudes and values towards women in Elizabethan times. In my opinion, Act 1 is crucial to the development and interaction the audience sees happening between the characters, and if this act were not to be in the play it would be harder for us to get to know the characters and to try to figure out what is going to happen in the story. The audience like to think that they know what is going to happen in a play, so through Act 1 they can guess which characters are going to be the villains and heroes, thus trying to figure out what is going to happen next.

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